France slaps Facebook with maximum fine over privacy

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France has slapped Facebook with its maximum fine for invading users' privacy, a 150,000 charge that's small change versus its $8 billion in revenue last quarter.

French data watchdog, the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Liberts (CNIL), was investigating the changes Facebook made to its privacy policy back in 2015 to ensure they met local data protection laws, alongside regulators in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. France then demanded Facebook stop tracking users without consent and cease moving personal data to the US.

The CNIL found Facebook was compiling a "massive" tranche of personal data on users "in order to display targeted advertising". That includes on third-party websites via a cookie, often without user knowledge. After a hearing the CNIL, said it didn't believe users clearly understood the extent to which Facebook was stalking them across the web, add ing that the company doesn't clearly communicate their data rights. The watchdog warned Facebook to stop collecting so much data and to stop sharing some of it with the US, but fined the company when it failed to meet those demands.

Facebook argues the French-led group of data watchdogs aren't the right body to be investigating the social network, instead favouring the Irish regulator as its European operations are based in that country.

"We take note of the CNIL's decision with which we respectfully disagree," the company said in a statement to the Guardian. "At Facebook, putting people in control of their privacy is at the heart of everything we do. Over recent years, we've simplified our policies further to help people understand how we use information to make Facebook better."

The 150,000 fine is a small slice of Facebook's profits, but it's lucky not to be paying more. The CNIL increased its maximum fine to 3 million last year.